Dates: Nov 28th Nov 2017 to 8th March 2018 “Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas” Madrid.
MANOLO BLAHNÍK: between art and fashion Manolo Blahnik shoes are known around the world for their inimitable style, rooted in a unique language and exceptional quality. A style that is foremost characterized by tech-nical virtuosity, a fne, meticulous attention to detail, mastery of colour and a fascinating imagination, matched with fawless craf.Born in 1942 on the island of La Palma, in the Canary Islands, Blahnik became an inter-national arbiter of fashion thanks to his innate talent and tenacity and, as he freely admits, a bit of luck. Early on in his career a suggestion from Diana Vreeland, the famed editor of Vogue in the United States, that he focus on making women’s shoes, set his destiny in motion. In order to master the technique of making footwear, Blahnik studied materials on his own, and worked in factories where he gained the experience he needed over the whole creative process.
All of the production phases that go into the making of Blahnik shoes are manual, and as a result, the number of pairs produced each day is a little over one hundred.Blahnik has worked with the best-known names in fashion –Ossie Clark, Yves Saint Lau-rent, John Galliano for Dior and Oscar de la Renta. He has been described as one of the most famous contemporary shoe designers, a status that is proven through the many ac-knowledgements and awards he has received, including his appointment as Commander of the British Empire in 2007, the 2012 Spanish National Award for Design and Fashion given by the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport, and the Couture Council Award for Artistry of Fashion in 2015. In 2003, Manolo Blahnik was the frst shoe designer to receive a monographic exhibition at the Design Museum in London.Tis exhibition is a journey through Blahnik’s most important creations over more than forty-fve years. Te show is distributed into nine sections, each focusing on recurrent themes and obsessions in his work: Manolo Blahnik and his workshop, Art and Archi-tecture, Botany, Geography, Marie-Antoinette, Bajo la Luna, Obsessions, Gala and Vogue. It ofers a full overview of this artist’s development, and explores the shoe beyond fashion, understood as an object with a personality of its own that transcends mere functionality and ofen reaches the heights of art.
ROOM ONE: MANOLO AND HIS WORKSHOPTe richness and variety of textiles and materials Manolo Blahnik works with make his shoes unique. He owes his passion for unusual textiles, fne lacework and elegant embroi-deries to his mother, who had her dresses made by some of the best couturiers of Madrid and Paris. Introduced to the universe of textiles at an early age, Blahnik can rightly claim to have devoted almost ffy years to the study and investigation of this material. Tis knowledge provides a solid basis for his work, while it gives an original “life” to his style. Blahnik uses a wide variety of materials, from cashmere to cotton to such extraordinary textiles as Ottoman silk, the most precious and rare of its kind. It would be impossible to list all of the patterns that appear on his shoes, which emerge from the most imaginative combinations. Two in particular fascinate him: the 1964 classic Marimekko Unikko foral pattern of a large, simply drawn poppy, and plaid, specifcally Scottish tartan. One of his most recent obsessions is Hebrides tweed. Blahnik’s creations reclaim European traditions and are strong afrmations in defence of craf over mass production. At the same time, however, he is always open to experimen-tation.Josefa (Spring/Summer 2017) is an homage to the architect, Zaha Hadid, this shoe features organic, sculpted shapes, symbolic of her Changsha Meixihu International Culture & Arts Cente building.
Michael Roberts (circa 2000).
ROOM TWO: ART AND ARCHITECTURE Manolo Blahnik’s passion for the proportions of the foot comes from his study of the sculptures of the Greek artists Phidias and Praxiteles.Te desire to produce both harmonic design and solid construction led Blahnik to seek inspiration in architecture. Tinking of history, he focused frst on the perfect construc-tion of Roman arches. In making his shoes, the principles of movement in Baroque ar-chitecture also intervene, seen in particular in churches such as Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza by Borromini, in Rome, notable for the complex rhythm of its concave-convex walls. In his travels through Russia, Blahnik was particularly drawn to the traditional onion domes of its churches. Yet architects such as Walter Gropius, Frank Lloyd Wright, Zaha Hadid, Renzo Piano and Rafael Moneo also infuence him.Likewise, Blahnik fnds inspiration in the works of his favourite artists, like Zurbaran and Goya. His references reach into the twentieth century, as he strongly identifes with the Cubist paintings of Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse’s mastery of colour, the masterpieces of Russian Suprematism by Kazimir Malevich and the abstractions of Mark Rothko and Piet Mondrian. Te bold, aerodynamic forms of some of his creations are in dialogue with the sculptures of Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore and Alexander Calder. Porcelain Moka cup and plate designed by Vassili Kandinsky (1921) Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas. © Vassili Kandinsky VEGAP, Madrid, 2017.Colección Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas (CE25072 y CE25073)
Celesta (Autumn/Winter 2016-17) suede boot hand embroidered in ltaly with multicoloured glass beads.
ROOM THREE: BOTANYT e natural world, its beauty and forms, are a constant source of inspiration for Manolo Blahnik’s creativity. A love of nature comes from his childhood: he grew up in a panorama of varied and surprising nature, from volcanic landscapes to tropical forests and the cha-racteristic golden beaches and blue ocean of the Canary Islands. Blahnik’s frst successes were related to his use of natural forms in his shoes. He created his frst collection for the Ossie Clark 1972 fashion show. Clark was the arbiter of fashion in 1960s Swinging London, and the show was the frst time that the special elegance of Blahnik’s creations was on display. His green sandals with straps adorned with ivy-leaf and cherries drew particular attention, and his career is unimaginable without them. Tis original reworking of natural forms is a constant in his work, and encompasses many decorative motifs on his shoes such as roses, daisies, strawberries, palm leaves and cactus. Blahník is also attracted to marine motifs, such as coral, coastlines and the shapes of reefs. Lagartija (2016) evokes Manolo Blahnik’s childhood obesseion of making shoes for lizards using candy wrappers.
ROOM FOUR: GEOGRAPHY Noire et Blanche de Man Ray (1926)© Man Ray Trust, VEGAP, Madrid, 2017.With a Spanish mother and Czech father, Blahnik studied in Switzerland and Paris, and in 1972 he chose to make London his home. Travel remains one of his principal sources of inspiration, and many of his shoes are the result of infuences from diferent countries and continents. Blahnik’s creations are ofen inspired by Italy and its enormous cultural patrimony. He professes a special love for Sicily, its Baroque architecture and ocean corals, and for Pa-lermo, the setting for his favourite novel, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s Il Gatopardo. Great Britain is his second home, and consequently many of his shoes combine the sobrie-ty and eccentricity of classic English style. In addition, he likes to endow his shoes with the inimitable sense of colour and exuberant beauty of Africa, which has been present in his life since childhood. He is likewise moved by Russian history and culture, and particularly the grandiose period of Tsarina Catherine the Great. Manolo Blahnik has broadened his creative horizons with collections inspired by Greece, the Ottoman Empire, Japanese culture and the unique traditions of the Far East.
Molded porcelain teapot with dragon iconography,Japan (1890-1910). Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas.
Tis collection is made up of eleven pairs of shoes that Blahnik created in 2006 for the movie Marie Antoinette (2006), directed by Sofa Coppola. “When Milena Canonero ca-lled me, I put everything else to the side,” Blahnik remembers. To make them, he found documentation in books on this famous French queen, and closely studied collections of eighteenth-century shoes, especially those at the Musée Carnavalet (Paris) and the Victoria & Albert Museum (London). He spent hours researching the works of painters such as Jean-Honoré Fragonard, François Boucher, Antoine Watteau, Tomas Gains-borough and Sir Joshua Reynolds in search of details. Tis helped Blahnik bring to his designs a refned elegance, pastel colours, love for unusual lines and use of luxurious fabrics, including embroidered silk.
ROOM FIVE: MARIE ANTOINETTEP
Neo-Rococo molded porcelain table clock, enameled and painted;Germany (1830-1880). National Museum of Decorative Arts.Antonieta satin and velvet mule (“Marie Antoinette” 2005 collection). Watercolour, ink and pencil sketch with fabric samples attached(“Marie Antoinette” 2005).
Lola (2003) leather ankle boot with silk pompoms designed especially for the 15th anniversary of Vogue Spain as an homage Lola Flores.
ROOM SIX: BAJO LA LUNA For this exhibition, the shoes created by Blahnik under the infuence of his native Spain hold a very special place. Many Spanish sources have inspired his creations, starting with such emblematic writers as Galdós, Clarín, Unamuno, Ortega y Gasset and of course, Gar-cía Lorca, whom he considers the greatest of poets. Blahnik also admires many Spanish painters, including Goya, Zurbarán, Picasso and Miró, as well as architects like Rafael Mo-neo and edifces such as cathedrals, monasteries and other World Heritage monuments in Spain. In addition, the tailed gowns and movements of famenco dancers, and folk songs of Spain echo in Blahnik’s mind, where they mix and are transformed into ‘portraits’ in the original shapes of shoes.Lola Flores and la Duquesa de Alba by Cecil Beaton, July 1964.
ROOM SEVEN: OBSESSIONS Helmut Newton, Manolo Blahník and Anjelica Huston by David Bailey, January 1974.Obsession is a term that defnes Manolo Blahnik’s life impulse and creative process, which is ofen guided by very specifc obsessions rooted in his passion for literature, flm and history.Blahnik ofen fnds inspiration in fgures of history, such as Alexander the Great. Teatre and flm are other endless sources of ideas, from the golden age of Hollywood to the universe of Luchino Visconti or Pedro Almodóvar, together with his special fondness for actresses such as Brigitte Bardot or Romy Schneider. Critics have written that Blahnik’s shoes have the extraordinary ability to capture the atmosphere of nineteenth century no-vels such as Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, Fortunata y Jacinta by Benito Pérez Galdós and Anna Karenina de Leon Tolstoy.Tis section simultaneously highlights Blahnik’s eternal admiration for the female univer-se, and the women who have supported and inspired him throughout his career.From the editor Anna Piaggi, who played a crucial role in his life, helping him when he transferred the making of his shoes close to Milan, to the sophisticated simplicity of his intimate friend, the model and designer Tina Chow; Paloma Picasso, whom he met in Pa-ris at the end of the 1960s; and Bianca Jagger, Anjelica Huston and Isabella Blow, just some of the other important fgures in Blahnik’s life, without whom it would be impossible to imagine his career.
ROOM EIGHT: Gala, with its origins in the French word gale, means “jubilation”. And this is the atmos-phere sought for the shoes in this part of the exhibition, which displays the most extrava-gant, elaborate examples and most exceptional creations. Tese are evening shoes made of silk, Ottoman silk and satin, and adorned with crystals, beads and pearls. Manolo Blahnik is synonymous with elegance and fashion. His fne-pointed and embe-llished shoes with ultra-fne heels are designed for important occasions. Blahnik’s career took of in the early 1970s, a period dominated by thick platform shoes. Yet Blahnik went against the prevailing trends, with a return to the slender heel form which he enhanced even more, evolving into a constant in his career. Blahnik also gave each shoe design its own name, awakening the imagination of the recipient and individualizing his creations.Venetian Lace Wing, Philip Treacy, London (2001).
ROOM NINE: VOGUE Vogue was a window onto the world for the young Manolo Blahnik. His relationship with the magazine began in 1971 on a trip to New York together with Paloma Picasso, who introduced him to Diana Vreeland. From then on, he began associating with personalities such as Grace Coddington, Helmut Newton and David Bailey. In January 1974, he posed with Anjelica Huston on the cover of British Vogue, becoming the second man to ever grace the cover of that publication.Tis room features a selection of photographs from the Condé Nast archives, taken by some of the world’s greatest photographers. Tey showcase Blahnik’s creations at diferent periods throughout Vogue’s history.Brick (1971) handmade platform mule, designed for Kansai Yamamoto, one of the most influential Japanese fashion designers.